Top 10 Home Invasion Thrillers!
Have you guys seen the commercials for that new Ethan Hawke movie THE PRUGE? I can't front, that shite looks pretty decent, if for no other reason than being a welcomed addition to one of my favorite subgenres, the home invasion thriller. I don't know about you, but the plausible idea of someone - a real human being - entering your home when you least expect it, likely with deleterious intent, I find flat out terrifying. Shoot, I still jump when I round a corner and see a roommate I didn't think was home...never mind a total stranger breaking in with murder on the mind. Fuck all that. Anyway, THE PURGE looks like it has a futuristic sci-fi element thrown in to set it apart, but even so, you can't help but think about the number of flicks that inspired it. At least we can't. Enter this week's Horror Ten Spot to see what I mean!
Before Bella was dry-humping glittery, weepy-eyed vampires and homosexual werewolves, David Fincher thought it wise to pit her against perhaps the most random and hilarious trio of foes: Jared Leto, Forest Whitaker and Dwight motherf*ckin' Yoakam! Strike that, Jared Leto in cornrows, Dwight Yoakam in a balaclava, and Forest Whitaker doing his mumbled, manic energy thing. PANIC ROOM is likely Fincher's weakest film to date, sure, but the dude is so talented that even his worst is better than 80% of the other shite out there. Yes, K.Stew plays daughter to Jodie Foster...the two forging a bond of survival when the aforementioned troika steam rolls into their house for a specialized burglary. By the numbers on paper, Fincher and company elevate the material into a slick yet dark thriller that works on repeat viewings.
Although Darren Lynn Bousman has lost some steam in recent years, he put forth a cool wrinkle in the home-invasion genre with MOTHER'S DAY, made all the better by a sadistic turn from a revitalized Rebecca De Mornay. Instead of a band of assailants running roughshod over an unsuspecting family, Bousman's remake deals with the consequences of foreclosure. When a trio of hoods on the lam try to seek refuge in their house, they soon realize it's no longer their house, that other people have taken residence. Undeterred, De Mornay has her sons' backs, and together they show the new homeowners just who the f*ck is in charge. Shite gets savage! Of course, seeing Jaime King, Deborah Ann Woll, Lisa Marcos and Briana Evigan get tied-up, humiliated and abused like a kink.com scene is alone worth a watch!
Aside from the mundane realism, the most disturbing thing about the two sick f*ckos in Michael Haneke's FUNNY GAMES (2007) is just how calm, cordial and unassuming they initially come across as. Like two perfect gentlemen. No masks, no weapons, no ill-intentions sensed from the get-go...instead they use their wholesome boyish facades to worm their way on to the property of a nice middle-aged couple before ultimately terrorizing the piss out of them. And then some! The 1997 version is probably the better, more effective film, but there's something about the updated version that looms fresher. Perhaps it's Naomi Watts' perfect booty! Nah, my guess it's the casting of Michael Pitt and Brady Corbett (not to mention Tim Roth) and larger budget that made Haneke want to remake himself in the first place. Not sure it was necessary, but it's pretty damn sick.
Granted, the 2006 remake eats massive balls, and even the original only features a first act of home invasion before moving into a more traditional police procedural. That said, that opening 20 minutes of WHEN A STRANGER CALLS fucked me up so deeply, so profoundly as a kid, I cannot in good consciousness omit it from the fray. The shite rocks! It's the stuff of urban legend...when a babysitter is repeatedly tormented by a rash of phone calls asking if "have you checked on the children", only to eventually learn that those very phone calls are being made from someone INSIDE the house...yeah, I still get chills just writing about it. Fred Walton directs the scene so deftly, with the performance by Carol Kane as believable as any. In fact, the entire opener was adapted from a short film Walton made called THE SITTER, which he only stretched into a feature after seeing what incredible success HALLOWEEN reaped the year before.
Helping to launch a renaissance of sorts in modern French horror (along with HAUTE TENSION), David Moreau & Xavier Palud put forth THEM...a sterling entry into the mysterious invaders subgenre. Many have cited this flick as direct inspiration for Bryan Bertino's THE STRANGERS, and you'd be hard-pressed to argue the contrary. However, THEM is a bit shorter, a bit denser, and perhaps a skosh more intense. The single location and low-budget aesthetic fraught with unknown international actors make the film more intimate, more inescapable...and therefore more disconcerting. Unfortunately, after Moreau and Palud won the job of remaking THE EYE after THEM, such an experience was obviously unpleasant enough to cause a 5 year wait before spinning 180 degrees and making a comedy. David, Xavier...get back to what you know best!
Breathing fresh life into the home invasion template in 2010 was Miguel Angel Vivas, doing so with a real-time immediacy and hyper-kineticism in KIDNAPPED. The Spanish chiller is fast, lean, mean, and totally badass! The reason largely has to do with the audience identification of the assaulted family, as we literally witness the minute-by-minute terror of being invaded upon, tormented and ultimately redeemed. It's in your face filmmaking, as visceral and engaging as one comes. No hard cutaways, or stupid subplots, no sense of relief ever offered away from the intense marauding of three masked criminals. Vivas' places us smack dab in the middle of the action and makes us stew around in it until the final act, when the family finally makes a heroic push to quell the evil bastards. But by then the irreparable psychological damage has been done!
The credo "less is more" has never been better exemplified than in Bryan Bertino's THE STRANGERS. It's such a simple, stripped down, yet highly effective piece of filmmaking. The use of sound and silence is masterful, creating an multisensory assault that transcends the mere visual. In terms of plot, yes, the outline is paper thin. But again, it's not about the what...it's the HOW that separates THE STRANGERS from the rest of its contemporaries. Call it style over substance if you wish, but the style is so confident, so assured, it's hard to dismiss as anything but impressive. Of course, even style can't trump emotional investment, so hats off to Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman for lending performances that actually make us give a fuck when all hell continually rains down on them throughout the picture. Now let's hope the sequel is even better!
Oh those French...such joie de vive! In this case, such joy of death...as the poor pregnant gal in the extremely brutal INSIDE gets more violated than Amanda Bynes in a jail-cell. Good heavens! But even more than the intense violence, exacted on Christmas Eve no less, what really unnerves most is the fact that the heinous intruder is another woman...hell-bent on snatching the victim's unborn fetus. Shite's gnarly! And to make matters worse, the abused woman is all alone on the count of her hubby dying4 months prior. And anytime help does try to intervene, the sadistic killer-bitch is having none of it. She shreds, carves and deads any and all mofos who stand in the way of her and her fetal target. I haven't seen the duo's follow up film LIVID, but I am happy to report Butillo & Maury are taking part in the upcoming horror anthology sequel ABCS OF DEATH 2.
If you want cutting edge violence for its time, you can never go wrong with a goddamn Sam Peckinpah picture! After re-stylizing violence to a more rapid, visceral pace in his western masterpiece THE WILD BUNCH, Peckinpah enlisted Dusty Hoffman and Susan George to play the terrorized victims of home invasion in STRAW DOGS, a movie needlessly remade by Rod Lurie just a couple years ago. The original is of course far superior, not only for its shocking content for the time, but for the performances and technical craftsmanship as well. The action springs when a pacified mathematician and his wife take a vacation in the isolated English countryside. The wife flaunts her ass (so to speak) at a local pub, arousing the attention of a bunch of twisted and perverted ruffians. The taunt, they harass, they invade...and then they get their heads blown the f*ck off by Dusty Shotgun!
After years of trying to track this sucker down, I finally caught WAIT UNTIL DARK last year, and you know what, definitely worth the wait it was. I mean, Alan Arkin rocking dual-roles, one of which being a maniacal round-shade-wearing psychopath named Roat?! Worth the rental fee alone! But seriously, Audrey Hepburn gives one of her best turns as a blind woman who unknowingly harbors a heroin-stuffed doll in her apartment. It belonged to her recently absent hubby, and now Roat and his lackeys (Richard Crenna) pull a conniving home infiltration by actually ingratiating themselves to the poor woman. Based on the Fredrick Knott play, most of the action takes place in Hepburn's apartment, so the tension and claustrophobia ratchet up with each passing act. It's a solid if logically absurd (at times) thriller that surely paved the way for similar future home invasion flicks.